Stay behind the line: Kirby Smart and other coaches prepare for college football’s ‘heightened focus’

Kirby Smart-Scott Sinclair
Scott Sinclair, in the white shirt, is the designated 'get-back' coach for Kirby Smart.

ATHENS – Scott Sinclair’s most important role on the Georgia football team is to oversee strength and conditioning. His second-most important role is grabbing Kirby Smart by the backside to pull him back to the sideline.

Sinclair’s second job takes on a new level of importance this season.

As part of a renewed emphasis on sideline behavior, coaches now can draw a 15-yard penalty if they step onto the field to argue a call. Smart and other coaches have been warned, and say they’re ready – though Smart doesn’t sound too crazy about the rule.

“I’m obviously concerned about it at a critical time, but it is the rule, and we follow the rules. And I think as head coaches we got to set a good example, and I think that’s what the rules are in place for,” Smart said last week at SEC Media Days.

Steve Shaw, the SEC’s coordinator of officials, has indicated that officials are going to have leeway if they see fit. But only to a point.

“We haven’t said to them, gosh your toe was on it,” Shaw said at the SEC meetings. “We’re not going to be ridiculous. What we’re saying to them is if you come out on the field of play and you protest a call, it’s unsportsmanlike.”

The SEC’s coaches were briefed on the new emphasis – “a heightened focus,” as the NCAA put it – in May at an SEC gathering. Shaw showed coaches going all the way out to the hash mark to complain about calls, according to Alabama coach Nick Saban.

“And I think those coaches should have been penalized,” said Saban, who also has a “get-back” coach for game days. “And if those coaches were penalized, and we didn’t have sort of that kind of tolerance for that kind of behavior, maybe we wouldn’t need a rule like this that is really sort of a sledgehammer. And I hope that this is not a circumstance and situation that affects a game in the fall, because it is pretty restrictive, but it is what it is. It’s the same for everybody.”

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp has had some famous on-field tirades. Last season, Smart apparently drew a sideline warning at Kentucky. That was followed later by a penalty on Georgia’s sideline, giving Kentucky a first down. (It wasn’t clear who that penalty was on.)

Sinclair, who drew raves from players for Georgia’s strength program last year, drew more notice from the rest of the world for his Saturday job. He served as the “get-back” man for Smart, following behind him and pulling him back when necessary. It’s not that unusual a role, as other head coaches employ them.

“Well, certainly all us coaches have gotten our assignments. Our coaches are going to hang on to us and make sure we don’t go across that line,” Smart said, adding:  “You’d hate to see a game decided by something like that. But it’s the rule. We’ve been briefed on it, and we all got to adhere to it.”


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